Degree Requirements

The following requirements must be met to receive the PhD degree:

  1. A minimum of 135 units, with at least 90 units taken at Stanford. For additional information about minimum residency requirements for PhD students, please see the Graduate Academic Policies and Procedures Handbook, Section 3.2.
  2. Complete all required courses with a grade of B or better
  3. Pass the qualifying exam
  4. Submission of at least one first-authored paper
  5. Pass the final oral exam (thesis defense)
  6. Submit a written dissertation

Program Milestones

In the first year:

  • Students will participate in the Stanford Intensive Neuroscience (SIN) Boot Camp and take required coursework
  • Eligible students will apply for the NSF Graduate Research Fellowship
  • Students will complete a minimum of 3 lab rotations prior to selecting a thesis advisor.
  • Students will join a thesis lab prior to the start of the second year of study.
  • After joining a lab, students are required to meet with their thesis advisor within 30 days to complete the Individual Development Plan (IDP).


In the second year:

  • Students focus on preparing for the qualifying exam, which should be taken 6-9 months after joining a lab but no later than the end of the second year. Qualifying exams are comprised of a written proposal and oral exam.
  • Students will apply for any fellowships for which they are eligible (DOD, NDSEG, HHMI are just a few).
  • After passing the qualifying exam, students apply for doctoral candidacy and form their dissertation reading committee.
  • Students will complete the IDP annually.

In the third and fourth year:

  • After passing the qualifying exam students must meet with their thesis committee at least once per academic year.
  • Students will continue to complete the IDP annually.
  • Students will apply for fellowships for which they are eligible, particularly the NRSA.
  • Once eligible (135 units and all course requirements have been completed), students will apply for Terminal Graduate Registration (TGR).

Starting in the fifth year:

  • Students must meet with their thesis committee twice per academic year and complete the IDP annually.
  • Students must complete a Responsible Conduct of Research course.
  • Neursociences students must submit at least one first-author paper about their thesis research to a major scientific journal.
  • The final steps to completing the Neurosciences PhD are the Oral Examination (also known as the thesis defense) and submission of the approved written dissertation.


For general information and recommendations regarding academic milestones please visit the Stanford Biosciences website.

Required Courses

The courses below must be taken for a letter grade.

Stanford Intensive Neuroscience (SIN) Boot Camp (NEPR 299 taken in Summer of the first year)

Neuroscience Core Modules (each module is 2-3 weeks long; 3 modules are held sequentially each quarter)

  1. NEPR 202: Neurosciences Development Core
  2. NEPR 203: Neurosciences Systems Core
  3. NEPR 204: Neuroscience Molecular Core
  4. NEPR 205: Neurosciences Anatomy Core
  5. NEPR 207: Neurosciences Cognitive Core
  6. NEPR 208: Neuroscience Computational Core
  7. NEPR 213: Neurogenetics Core
  8. COMPMED201: Neurosciences Cellular Core (same as NEPR 201)
  9. NEPR 214: Neuroscience Translational Core (same as NENS 207)

NEPR 280: Neuroscience Journal Club and Professional Development Series (9 quarters are required)

NEPR 212: Responsible Conduct of Neuroscience Research

Statistics: All students will be required to demonstrate competence in statistics. This requirement can be met by completing a Stanford statistics course (such as STATS 216: Introduction to Statistical Learning) with a grade of B or better or petitioning to receive credit for a different Stanford course. For information on receiving credit for another course, please refer to the Neuroscience Program Handbook.

Advanced Coursework: Students must complete a minimum of four (4) upper-level courses that may be selected based on the interests and needs of the student with prior approval of the Program Director. To request approval of a course, complete this online form at least 2 weeks prior to the first day of classes of the term in which the course is offered.  

For more details about coursework and registration, please visit our Courses & Registration page (requires SUNet login).